Voices
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Compared to what?

The Paul Ryan budget plan has plenty of critics but not a lot of alternatives

Issue: "Who will vote?," April 21, 2012

There are some folks in life who wind up their courage, do something very difficult, get smacked hard in the process, and then figure-sadly-that they've learned their lesson.

Then there are people who wind up their courage, do something very difficult, get smacked hard in the process, and then, like Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, say: "Let's try that again. Let's just do it a little better this time."

When Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, last May proposed the outlines of a budget for the federal government that was gutsy enough to make a real difference for the future of our nation, he took scorching heat and pompous disdain-not just from liberals, but even from folks like Newt Gingrich, who condescendingly said Ryan's ideas were nothing more than "right-wing social engineering." Liberals were vastly more dismissive.

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But a couple of weeks ago, Ryan was back with version 2.0 of a budget proposal. "We've learned some lessons," the congressman said winsomely. "The criticisms we've absorbed, including some that were grossly dishonest, have helped us produce a better proposal." And with those changes, Ryan was able to persuade the House of Representatives to vote its approval on March 29 by a margin of 228 to 191.

You'd think that some brave soul on the other side of the aisle would at least insist on taking a few days to look over the new ideas. But instead, the political left-including, of course, the mainstream media-have come out with all guns blazing to shoot down the Ryan budget suggestions. (Gingrich, by the way, changed his mind and generously threw his support this time behind Ryan). But the Democratic leadership of the Senate says there's no point even sending the Ryan budget their way; they're not interested in looking at it.

So, having finally met a legislator who's not so consumed with himself that he can't show a little flexibility, let's try something creative. Let's compare the Ryan budget with some of the alternatives. Maybe-if we show him some really compelling concepts in the proposals of his opponents-maybe he'll demonstrate some of that bipartisanship that our critics have been saying is so elusive.

Maybe. Except, you see, there's a really big problem on that front. The problem is that there's factually nothing out there to which we can compare the Ryan proposal. That's right. Nothing. Even if you seriously wanted to look at the alternatives, with a genuine intention to borrow the best ideas, there's nothing out there from which to borrow.

Not once in the last three and a half years, for example, has the Democratic leadership of the Senate proposed even a tentative draft of its own for a federal budget. The Senate's supposed to do that. But, of course, drawing up such a proposal requires putting your ideas at risk. You've got to put something real out there on the table (like Ryan has done twice now) and let your opponents have at it. But Harry Reid's Senate hasn't lifted a finger to suggest how it might prioritize the nation's financial issues.

President Obama, we should perhaps concede, is a step or two ahead of the Senate. He actually concocted a budget and sent it to Congress for review. But it was so imaginary, so cockeyed, so out of touch, and so unrealistic that the House of Representatives voted 414-0 on March 28 to throw it out. Not a single Democratic member of Congress voted to approve his own president's proposal. Say this: At least such a vote shows that bipartisanship isn't totally dead.

In any case, so much for trying to find something of value to borrow and use to enhance the Ryan budget.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said candidly last week that his boss has no plan for dealing with the nation's galloping debt. So does it really matter how much Ryan's opponents find wrong with his proposals? The ideas they're so critical of can't possibly be as bad as having no proposal at all.

Email jbelz@worldmag.com

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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